June 5, 2009

Green Cars Surge In Japan Despite Recession

Green cars in Japan are gaining on conventional vehicles despite the worst recession in decades, offering automakers hope of re-energizing a dwindling market.

In May, Toyota Motor Corp's newest Prius hybrid was the best selling vehicle, pulling ahead of Honda's Insight, an industry survey showed.

The newly re-modeled Prius ranked first in sales, climbing to 10,915 last month, exceeding Toyota's monthly target.

Both automakers have seen a boost in domestic hybrid sales due to government subsidies for consumers buying fuel-efficient cars.

Honda's Insight held the top spot for sales in April.

Last fiscal year, Toyota registered it's first-ever loss, but released its third-generation hybrid in mid-May.

Honda's Insight, which boasts a lower price tag than the Prius, debuted in February.

Overall, the world's leading automaker has sold more than 1.25 million Prius vehicles since its release in 1997, making it the world's most popular hybrid vehicle.

Due to stiff competition from Honda's Insight, Toyota slashed the price of its latest model.

The new Prius features solar panels to power its ventilation system, and uses a 1.8 liter gas engine with an electric water pump.

"Of course the sales figure is supported by incentives... but I'm not pessimistic about the future as I see that our customers' interests in cars in general has come back," said Akihiko Otsuka, Toyota's chief engineer for the new Prius.

In an attempt to stay atop the fuel-efficient car market, Toyota announced that it will lease 200 plug-in Prius hybrids to fleet customers in Japan in late 2009. Another 150 will be leased in both the US and Europe.

The plug-in Prius models will be equipped with lithium-ion batteries, and can be recharged with household electrical outlets.

Similar batteries are used in many consumer electronics.

The vehicle, which is suitable for short distances, can operate as a normal hybrid when the battery runs out of power.

Mitsubishi Motors Corp, Japan's fourth-largest automaker, plans to sell plug-in vehicles in Japan as early as 2013 in an attempt to be the world leader in zero-emission electric vehicles, reported the Asahi Shimbun newspaper.

Mitsubishi Motors is expected to debut its electric i-MiEV vehicles to Japanese fleet customers in July, and to retail customers sometime in 2010.


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